U.S. House may vote within days on tighter North Korea sanctions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives could vote as soon as next week on legislation to toughen sanctions on North Korea by targeting its shipping industry and companies that do business with the reclusive state, congressional aides said on Thursday.

An overview of a national meeting at the People's Palace of Culture in Pyongyang on April 24, 2017 in celebration of the 85th founding anniversary of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in this handout photo by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) made available on April 25, 2017. KCNA/Handout via REUTERS

The legislation, approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month, is intended to cut off supplies of cash that help fund North Korea’s nuclear program, and increase pressure to stop human rights abuses such as the use of slave labor, the bill’s sponsor, Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, said.

It also calls on President Donald Trump’s administration to decide whether North Korea is a state sponsor of terrorism.

Amid international concern over the escalation of North Korea’s nuclear program, top Trump administration officials held briefings on the issue on Wednesday for the entire U.S. Congress, busing the 100 senators to the White House and meeting with members of the 435-person House at the Capitol complex.

As he left the House briefing, Royce said he expected the legislation to move quickly, as part of what he hoped would be a strong international effort to use every method possible to pressure Pyongyang to curb its nuclear ambitions.

“In particular, it will focus on financial institutions as well as what you might call ‘slave labor.’ These are cases where the North Koreans send out work crews to do work, and instead of being paid, the money comes back to the North Korean regime, and is spent on their nuclear program,” Royce told reporters.

The Trump administration said it wanted to push North Korea into dismantling its nuclear and missile programs through tougher international sanctions and diplomatic pressure, and remained open to negotiations to bring that about.

Officials also said on Wednesday they wanted to return the country to the U.S. list of terrorism sponsors.

A spokesman for Royce declined to comment on when there might be a vote, referring questions to House leadership, whose aides did not immediately respond to a request to confirm the timing.

Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is due to meet with the U.N. Security Council on Friday to press for tougher international sanctions on North Korea.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by James Dalgleish